Aphelion Issue 224, Volume 21
December 2017 / January 2018
 
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All for Love

By N.J. Kailhofer

Based on art by William R. Warren, Jr. as well as characters and situations created by Bill Wolfe, Casey Callaghan, and N.J. Kailhofer

Some of the individual versions of the stories in this series were written for forum flash challenge contests to help create this "world." As such, stories may not match the characters or settings of the continuous version of the story, which blended all the entries together.




Macridin stabbed his finger on the send button. "You saw the orders as well as I did. We'll store him outside until we orbit, then bury him after we land. Look, Captain, all due respect, but Ophelia's still a member of my crew, and she will be there, not locked up. If she didn't do it, I want them all at the funeral where I can see their faces. Mac out."

And stop calling every two hours! I'll put my own house in order.


***


Barnes floated in his spacesuit in the center of the Hab module, tethered to the floor below. They hadn't known where else to keep him. The crew waited on the far end of the room. None of them seemed broken up. Takuya and he were supposed to be pals, always playing video games against each other. Sergei wouldn't even answer Macridin's questions without instructions from his government. Hell, Helga wanted to use his body as fertilizer on her damn plants. Burying him offended her German sense of efficiency.

Ophelia wasn't anywhere near them.

No one wanted to meet his eye, except her. Ophelia's eyes blazed, no doubt due to the zip ties binding her hands and feet.

Mac cleared his throat. "A body doesn't belong in here."

Takuya looked up, puzzled.

"This room is where we eat, where we gather, where we exercise, or where we watch tv. This place is the heart of our home here, a place of life."

Helga watched him now, too.

"But Sidney Barnes is dead. He can't eat with us. He can't exercise, can't watch that damn soap opera. But he can gather with us one more time, so we can all hear how he was murdered."

He could have heard a pin drop.

"Sidney Barnes bled to death after a thin object was stabbed into his chest until it almost came out his back, but not before it ripped a hole right through his heart."

Sergei looked uncomfortable. Ophelia stared defiantly.

"Someone in this room did this." He tilted the body so they'd have to look at the face. Mac floated beside the body, his face next to Barnes'.

"Someone in this room murdered this man."

He paused, studying the faces. Helga looked uneasy, maybe annoyed. Takuya looked shocked. Sergei swallowed, watching the faces around him.

Mac continued. "I'm going to tell you all a secret. Barnes here had a kid."

Ophelia looked at the floor. Mac floated over. Softly, he asked, "It was a boy, right?"

She nodded.

"What did they name him?"

"Peter."

Sergei asked, "Why are you asking her?"

"The blackout is because of their child. Earth is calling it a sex scandal. They didn't want you to see the newscasts."

Mac moved close, and took her hands. "Look at me. Did he rape you? Is that how you got pregnant? You have to tell me."

Her eyes were brown pools. "No."

Helga's tone was sharp. "What this have to do with Barnes' death? Why are you asking her this in front of all of us?"

"Rape is a good motive for murder."

Their faces were all confusion, nothing else.

He turned back to Ophelia. "How did you get pregnant, then? You showed up at the hospital all banged up."

She shook her head. "No. SERE wilderness survival training. We did a night drop and I landed in a rapids. I was beat and scratched to hell by the time I got out of that river. When we got back, I had liberty. I was blowing off steam in this quiet bar across town and saw Sidney. He always made me laugh. I--we both drank too much."

"Why the secrecy?"

She sighed. "My mother was born in Pakistan. She's very traditional. You know what it was like before we invaded. I didn't want her to know. It was hard enough for her to accept the life I chose."

He looked directly into her eyes. "Did you kill him?"

"No. I was Com Officer that shift but I was supposed to do an interview for Good Morning America at 03:00, so Sidney was going to relieve me at 02:00 so I had time to clean up for tv. He didn't show. I went looking for him."

Mac paused.

"I have direct orders not to do this until some formal inquiry back on earth." He cut Ophelia loose. "But they can kiss my ass. This is my command."

Mac said to the rest of them, "That leaves one of you as prime suspect."

Sergei protested he'd hear from the Russian government. Takuya howled in loud Japanese. Helga glared at him dangerously.


***


Mac closed the door of his quarters. He took out a tab of Kentucky rye and squeezed it dry. He just couldn't pin it on any one of them, and couldn't lock them all up. They needed to do their jobs.

Ophelia knocked and floated in.

"Mac," she said, "I know you read the 'eyes only' message for Al-Hassanieh ten minutes before the blackout. I saw what you did."

"What?"

"Sidney was recording segments for National Geographic before the blackout. Outgoing data gets held in the temporary queue until it's copied into the send queue. Send is erased by the blackout protocol, but until new data writes over it, it's still in the temp queue."

"Why, Mac?"

Mac frowned. "Your chemist friend's thesis was about canceling the effects of alcohol before it's absorbed. Don't you see? He was sober when he slept with you. He used you. Kissed you. Touched you."

"I couldn't live with that."

She put her hand on his. "But I could. I knew."

Mac exhaled slowly. "What are you going to do?"

Ophelia paused. "The mission is more important. The ship needs a commander." She stopped in the doorway. "But after this mission is over, the truth needs to come out... from you."

Mac watched her disappear down the corridor. By then you'll have forgiven me... my love.


THE END


2008 N.J. Kailhofer


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